by Najee El-Amin —
Memphis’ first Black-owned full-service vegan restaurant, Guru’s City Vegan, is set to be the newest addition to the Highland strip in late November.
If that’s too long to wait, however, the restaurant will be hosting a number of pop-up shops during the fall. The next pop-up will be from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 30) at Grind City Brewing Co., 76 Waterworks Ave.
Guru’s City Vegan is the brainchild of celebrity chef Daudi “Da Vegan Guru” McLean. Although he now fights unhealthy eating habits with innovative and delicious food, he once fought fires for a living.
Born and reared in the concrete jungle of New York City, McLean seemed destined to serve his community. His father, George F. McLean, was the first Black officer in the history of The New Rochelle, New York Fire Department, which made the decision easy for McLean and his brothers to follow in his footsteps. McLean, 56, is the youngest of seven children. Both my parents are “92 years young,” he said.
Despite his attempt to stay active as a fire fighter, McLean began to slip into a dark place when the tragic death of his young nephew shook him to the core. He began to rapidly gain weight, nearing almost 300 pounds.
Fearing his obesity could eventually cost him his life, McLean shifted gears towards his love of music and moved to the West Coast.
In Los Angeles, he gained notoriety as a producer and landed a publishing deal.
The change in environment gave McLean a new outlook on life and more opportunities to get his health back on track. With encouragement from his vegetarian manager and an inspiring Dr. Sebi pamphlet, McLean began to phase meat out of his diet. He also began to jog in the mountains for exercise and meditated often.
With his mind, body and spirit now in a better place, McLean watched the fat melt off, losing 115 pounds in less than a year.
As a result of his years in the fire department, McLean already had a background in cooking.
With these new options at his disposal, he began perfecting his craft so he not only could enjoy the food he ate, but also to convince meat eaters to try another diet. McLean says that when he returned to New York, his family barely recognized him.
“It was a shock to them, but they understood when they tasted my food,” said McLean. “I had to start making the right foods with the right ingredients that tasted the right way for me in order to change all the way over without missing anything. I became a flavor-ologist.”
McLean eventually would take his talents to the next level and open his first restaurant. Thirty years later, he now aims to change Memphis’ mindset on alternative food sources when the city needs it most.
“Here (Memphis), there are limited options but there’s a lot of obesity and diabetes amongst our people,” said McLean. “So, it was most important to be somewhere it’s needed. Memphis has cultured, amazing, electric energy so to bring that plant-based food and to heal from the inside out will only make that vibration greater.”
In 2019, Memphis was ranked the second fattest city in America (by Wallethub.com) due to its high numbers of health-related illnesses and lack of healthy lifestyle accessibility. The concern only grows when considering the impact it has on those affected by COVID-19.
McLean believes that education is the first step to solving America’s diet problem. He advises people to take their daily water intake seriously and then work to find healthier food choices that also taste good.
“When they find out that they can eat a bacon double cheeseburger and it’s not all grass and sawdust that encourages them to start,” says McLean. “Listen to your body, and your life will change”
Da Vegan Guru takes great pride in knowing his food is a healthier option, but he also wants the residents of Shelby County to know that they won’t be missing a beat when it comes to flavor.
McLean has a star-studded track record when it comes to clientele. He has been across the country and has served the likes of Cedric the Entertainer, Magic Johnson, Jamie Foxx and Kevin Hart. Even the late great Tupac Shakur was the recipient of McLean’s mouthwatering vegan spaghetti.
While McLean’s cooking has given him the opportunity to serve many great figures, he said his favorite always will be his mother Obelia J. McLean.
“Showed up at her (his mother’s) door. She was like ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe you’re here. I just asked the Lord how can I eat to make myself healthy.’
“I came in and got rid of all the bad food and cooked for her every day and she lost 70 pounds. She put her cane down, went back to the doctor and the doctor said you do not have diabetes anymore. She said my son cured me, he turned me vegan.”
The pop ups are designed to give Memphians a taste of what the full restaurant will offer in the near future. Da Vegan Guru himself will be present and wants the community to come to try the cuisine whether vegan or not. He believes after just one bite you’ll be ready to shout his signature line.
“It’s DA GURU!”